SUN ADVOCATE "ARCHIVES"
This is the final installment in a series of stories about the coal strike of 1922
If there was ever a case in the criminal courts in Carbon County that was more confusing than the murder of A.P. Webb in the spring of 1922, it would be hard to find. Webb was killed and two others wounded in a hail of gunfire while guarding a train in Spring Canyon.
The complexity of what happens in any murder case is often very deep, but when one increases the number of defendants (in this case 15) it becomes almost impossible to sort out.
In that spring, after the murder and subsequent arrests, the case went a dozen different directions. The defendants were all immigrant Greeks. Those involved over the next year and half in the legal system were Mike Taglialakis, Pete Kukis, Harry Kokolakis, Tony Kambourakis, Guet Zembellis, Bill Satris, John Bakathakis, George Konteras, John Kriaris, Guy Kondomlis, George Spetris, Elias Kanterakis, Andreas Zulakis, Mike Paglalakis and Steve Lekakis.
The initial criminal trials were held in Carbon County because the judge in the case said that after reviewing petitions from the citizens and residents that the group could receive a fair trial in the area. In those trials, held in late 1922, Pete (also called George in some articles in the papers) Kukis was the first one convicted. The jury decided that he was guilty of murder. He got life in prison for the conviction.
In the second trial, which began jury selection in late December 1922, the man on trial was Andreas Zulakis. Again the defense attorneys in the case argued that Zulakis could not get a fair trial in Carbon County. The judge turned down the motion and the case proceeded, stretching into 1923. After a lengthy trail he was convicted of manslaughter in the case. From the papers at the time it is unclear how long he was sentenced to prison for.
The year of 1923 brought about a change of heart in the cases pending before the courts. The county, apparently out of viable jurors, and the judge at the time, decided moving the trials out of the area might actually be a good idea. All but one eventually ended up in Third District Court in Salt Lake City.
That single trial (Mike Paglalakis) that did not end up there was held in Emery County and began in late February. Why this single trial was held in Castle Dale has never been explained. Much of the same testimony that was used for the first two trials also took place in this one, for both sides. One of the things that marked all the defense testimony was a number of witnesses who said that they could remember the defendants being other places at the time of the shooting. In the prior two trials, one was thought to be at Kenilworth while another was working on the railroad up the canyon. In the case of Paglalakis, one witness said he was in a "tent colony" in Sunnyside all day (News-Advocate, March 15, 1923). However all the witnesses who testified to the whereabouts of the defendants in the cases were unable to recall any other details of the days surrounding the shooting or even things about the day that they remembered the dependents being other places. During the Paglalakis trial, one witness told the court that he had been "told what to say" by one of the defense attorneys when testifying in court and that he had heard of the case only three weeks before. The paper then went on to slam all the defense witnesses because "... nearly all the witnesses for the defense admit they are not American citizens..."
On March 18, Paglakis was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, just as the others had been.
It was May before the next trial started. In that trial two defendants went to trial together. Tony Kambouris and John Kriaris began their trial on May 1. They were charged with first degree murder. The defense stated in the opening arguments that they would prove the pair had been in Kenilworth on the day of the shooting. It came out in this trial that a mine official named Frank Hennes had armed some of the men, stating that he had done it to escort the train into the area, to protect those on board. One witness said, after he was armed he went to the tunnel where the train was emerging and that he saw men shooting at the train (it was unclear from the newspaper accounts (News-Advocate and the Salt Lake Telegram) if these men were men that had been armed by Hennes or others).
Meanwhile lawyers for the untried defendants were working to free some of them from jail. Four had been in jail for 10 months without any kind of bail offered. The argument was that since the first trial, manslaughter had been the strongest convictions given by juries and that the four should at least have the chance to come up with bail to be out of jail until they were to be tried.
The trial of Kambouris and Kriaris took a big turn when Kriaris came up with "an apparently air tight alibi" (Salt Lake Telegram, May 21, 1923) when it was proven that he was working for the Rio Grande railroad at Scenic, Utah at the time of the killing. The defense offered testimony from both a paymaster and a gang foreman of the railroad who backed up the story.
Despite this revelation, on June 3 the jury returned a verdict of guilty of voluntary manslaughter for both men, rejecting calls for a first degree murder conviction. On June 13 the judge ordered an indeterminate sentence for the pair, ranging from one to 10 years in prison. The jury had recommended leniency for both and the judge stated that he would talk with the board of pardons about how long the two should stay in jail.
Meanwhile many in Carbon County and at the state level were concerned about the cost of the trials that were being held, particularly with the cost of the change of venue. The trial of Kambouris and Kriaris had cost $5000 (News-Advocate, June 14, 1923), a huge amount of money at the time.
The next trial began quickly thereafter, and proceeded at a much faster rate. The three on trial in that action included John Dantis, George Spetris and Steve Lekakis. Many of the same witnesses were used in that trial by the prosecution, saying that they proved the three were in the crowd that was shooting at the train. However the jury in this case saw things differently after eight hours of deliberation ending on July 7. They found all three innocent of all charges.
As the juries seemed to become more liberal about their verdicts, the attitude toward the defendants in the cases seemed to change, based on reports in the newspapers. After the acquittal of the three in July, all of the other defendants were let out of jail. However Carbon County Attorney B.W. Dalton was adamant that more prosecutions would take place. The release of prisoners in the case had been put before the Utah Supreme Court as a separate action. Dalton said that if the court left him "any law to fight upon, the miners will be tried (News-Advocate July 12, 1923). Appeals in the cases already settled were also now before the local district court in Price and had been taken under advisement by the judge. Most of the actions against the others were continued indefinitely.
But indefinitely eventually became never. No more trials were held, and the papers never reported what happened in the appeals process for those that had been convicted.
By the time the trials that were held concluded, the coal strike had also met its end. The militia had long ago left Carbon County and the mines were back at full production.
It's hard to say, even 90 years later if justice was done concerning the death of A.P. Webb. The anti-immigrant feelings amongst much of the population colored a lot of what went on. The fact that armed men from the mine also mixed with the crowd of strikers that met the train as it came out of the tunnel, the various stories about who was there and who wasn't and the immense mix up of names throughout the reporting of the crime led to a lot of confusion.
It was a very different time and place.
(Editors note: Readers should be aware while researching this series that names that appeared in the newspapers of the time often changed from issue to issue. Some of those accused would be reported under one surname in one issue, but in the next issue might have another surname. The Sun Advocate staff did its best to sort out the names, but based on the records, not all of them may be completely accurate).